RAY SUAREZ: For more on the coming battle for Baghdad, we hear from two of the NewsHour's retired colonel corps. Former Army Special Forces officer and Middle East intelligence analyst W. Patrick Lang, and former Air Force operations planner Sam Gardiner. Joining them is former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis. He's held air defense and counterintelligence posts in the Middle East, the Gulf, and North Africa. He's now director of international programs, and also teaches Arabic, at the Virginia Military Institute.
Well, today the secretary of defense said forces are closer to the center of the Iraqi capital than many American commuters are from their downtown offices.
Sam Gardiner, what does the way they've gotten there tell you about how they plan to approach this final phase of the conflict?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, it's interesting, Ray. I think that the last day the movement was much faster than anybody had expected. The Baghdad division, the Medina Division, didn't seem to hold up. Now what that tells me about the way they may fight is, there are sort of two options available. One of them is what some have called tactical patience, which means we're going to do this slowly and methodically and not take casualties.
The other one, if this situation is the way it has unfolded to this point, we might see a rush towards the center of Baghdad taking some symbolic places in the center of the city and declaring victory, not that we would have controlled the city but that sort of movement with the notion we've sort of had all along that if you do that, the place would come apart, the regime would fall apart. People would surrender. So although this may have been -- this tactical patience may have been what we went in with, it could very well... we could very well switch to this fast shock-moving option.
RAY SUAREZ: Dale Davis a short time ago on the on-line publication Inside Defense.com a story moved quoting a senior U.S. officer in the theater as saying they plan to use an array of air, ground and special operations attacks on selected Baghdad targets before land forces advance on the city. How do you do that?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Well, it's very similar, in fact, to regular conventional operations outside of urban areas. But what's different is that the key terrain is no longer a hilltop or a river valley or a draw; it's specific locations within the city, usually buildings or symbolic structures. We have great technological advantage.
We're going to have our special forces in there and perhaps more importantly we're going to develop a very... we're going to engage in a very intensive human intelligence effort to develop those target lists and then attack them to attrit them, so we're looking at where the artillery is, where those tanks are that are located close to civilian infrastructure and try to very delicately take them out with precision-guided weaponry. So we want to attrit those capabilities they have before we go in and seize this key terrain that exists inside the city.
RAY SUAREZ: You make it sound so easy -- develop human intelligence. Where do you start getting the tips from? Do people start approaching U.S. forces?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Hopefully -- and I am sure that, in fact, we do have developed some assets inside the city already -- you'll have your special forces operators in there, some CIA assets in there, you're going to have even tactical counterintelligence personnel moving around trying to develop relationships to gain the trust of the Iraqi people and then through a variety of means acquire information on where the bad guys are, who is good, who is bad, and then at the same time we're going to engage in some reconnaissance and force operations where we send a unit down a particular avenue of approach just to see where they meet resistance and develop an entire... put all those pieces together to develop a real picture of the urban battlefield.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: This is all true. And it would become truer and truer the longer the battle for Baghdad lasted. You're right about that because, you know, you scoop up a bunch of these civilians and you get to talk to them. One of them will tell you something about somebody. You bring him in and you talk to them and then they tell you something else -- kind of daisy chain this down the road to figure out what's going on. But I think the situation is actually going to develop faster than that.
What we saw today I think is that these Republican Guard divisions were smashed badly by the air force and they had withdrawn as best they could into the environs of the city. The movement forward of the 37th Cav and the marines seemed to me as a combat intelligence guy seemed to be an advance against rear guards. You had groups of 10, 15, 20 people with small arms and light armored vehicle trying to delay the advance of our reconnaissance forces. They sold their lives dearly. If you listen carefully to this stuff today, there was a lot of fighting today on both axes and all sorts of dead Iraqi soldiers and busted equipment and things like that.
But, nevertheless our people moved forward on to the airport. We're real close to downtown now. I think the temptation is going to be very strong to go down these high speed avenues of approach and see some key terrain. You know, the telecommunications, the utilities, important government buildings and then see if the whole things collapses because it might be that it's going to collapse.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me quickly follow up on that because along with reports from the front about lots of dead Iraqis, as you say, there are also some front line commanders saying they rolled ahead after engaging the enemy and found that they didn't find the dead Iraqis that they expected to find there.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Yeah.
RAY SUAREZ: Now can units of the Republican Guard, once they've lost their effectiveness, once they've lost key officers, won they've lost their structure, fall back and reconstitute under new commanders inside new units that are further back into Baghdad?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Probably not very well. But they can sure try. You know, they could fall back-- you're right. They didn't find enough casualties in the front line. The dead Iraqis we're talking about were all people killed during the rear guard actions against our reconnaissance forces. They can fall back with infantry weapons and try to amalgamate themselves into the defense of the Baghdad area but it's gong to be a tough thing to make that a coherent defense in a crisis like this. If you keep pushing, they're apt to go down.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Just a couple of points. I think I agree with Pat about it feels fragile despite the fact that we thought this would be such a tough battle, it just feels fragile.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: It does.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I guess I want to sort of pick up on the point about one of the reasons bad guys pick cities -- and I guess I can say this as a air person -- is because the air power tends not to be as good in the cities. Over the history sort of warfare in the city, since the end of World War II, the average engagement is about 100 yards inside the city. That's when you see a bad guy and you begin to exchange fire. That is inside the danger zone of air-delivered weapons so that's why when you find that people say if you're going to take on the Americans do it in the city because our advantage tends to go down.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You know, that's one of the unusual things about this war. In spite of the fact we've had such low casualties on our side. I don't mean to slight the dead in this. I would never do that. But, in fact, our losses have been pretty slim compared to the Iraqis who have lost men steadily all the way from Nasiriyah all the way up to this place.
But we've lost so many men, it kind of obscures the fact that the Iraqis have fought continuously throughout this whole zone and at close range. Many of these engagements people were nose to nose. One tank commander was cited as having shot a couple men with his nine millimeter pistol right alongside his tank. These are remarkably close engagements by people who come right up to our armored vehicles.
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: That level of commitment gives me some concern because we really haven't seen any of the Special Republican Guard. We know that they have prepared for the defense of Baghdad. How much they've been attrited is a huge question mark.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, one interesting story that moved on the wires this afternoon talked about the dispersion of Ba'ath Party resources all through Baghdad, sort of the equivalent almost of clubhouses in neighborhoods all over the city, each one heavily armed, each one, I guess a place that you could fall back to if you're fighting inside a neighborhood.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: The story sort of... it sounds as if they have picked some areas to defend. One of them was the airport, which is kind of hard to understand why because the advantage was to us out there. The other two are the western suburbs. Now this is where the fighting gets close and tight in the residential area. And then the other one is sort of at the suburbs beyond where the road from al Kut and from Karbala come together. There's suburbs there, and then finally sort of downtown where the government buildings are. So it's sort of... I think what you're seeing is that they are trying to strengthen the resistance in those areas.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in the program we saw videotape from an incursion into a presidential palace. There are a lot of things going on in Iraq that we haven't seen and we don't see. Why was it important for us to see American forces inside that building, Dale Davis?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: I'm not so sure it was so important for us to see that. It was very important for the Iraqis and the Arab world to see that because that was a direct affront to the potency of Saddam. In other words, we can come to your house any time we want and kick in the door. That image for the Arab and for the Iraqi demonstrates that Saddam's demise if it has not already occurred is imminent.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You know, this thing down in Najaf with this Shia Ayatollah is also extremely important in a similar way because Shiaism is the religion of the oppressed and those who wish to think themselves oppressed and the ayatollahs down there in Najaf are the symbols of resistance to oppression by the Sunni element of the population. If it is at all true that an ayatollah of that seniority is going to in fact endorse or say don't interfere with us on this thing, this will have a profound effect on the Shias in southern Iraq.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I think what we will see in the fight for Baghdad is a continuation of this. There's a lot of discussion of what we've learned from the British in Basra. We've seen pictures that wherever there's a picture of Saddam Hussein, they knock it down, they go after the symbols as a symbol of the fact that we are eliminating the regime. So that's going to be a big part of the battle of Baghdad.
RAY SUAREZ: And the British are making camp inside Basra for the first time tonight. They've bedded down there. I guess they could sleep anywhere they want in that part of the country but bedding down in Basra becomes significant on what, a different plane, Dale Davis?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Well, the fact that they're there, they're in control. That's just one more sign that the regime has gone. It's no longer capable of preventing them from exercising their will inside the city. It builds the confidence of the people.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: But we've got to not forget. I know that they had decided to go into Basra a week ago and it's taken them a week after the decision to go in before they were able to actually clear enough so they could go in.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: It's going to be tough to hold this place together after the fall of Baghdad because, you know, the Kurds now have an army. They have what amounts to a real state in the north. This is unheard of in Kurdish history practically. They have real and perhaps justified expectations of what their cooperation ought to mean for them as a people. Then the Shia as well. They're going to be willing to be in favor of us for now. But how are they going to feel about it afterwards when we don't want them to be too close to Tehran? These could be really serious problems afterwards.
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: I would point out these loyalties change very quickly. The Shiites welcomed us in 1982 into Beirut, and within a year their loyalties changed drastically.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: All they have to do is get the idea that your interest and theirs no longer align and then the thing changes extremely fast.
RAY SUAREZ: One thing we're getting consistent reports of now: friendly fire casualties at a much higher rate that happened in the Gulf War. After the Gulf War, commanders were said to be pretty upset about this and new technologies were pioneered to try to lower that rate. But we're still seeing it. Why?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I don't know that I can say why. Just a couple things, Ray. First, there's nothing more painful than a friendly fire incident. As far as the ground forces are concerned, we've made a lot of technological progress. Leading units have on them infrared reflectors. They have flashers that appear on the radar of aircraft, so that knowing where a column is should be easier than it ever has been in any war before. So it's... you know, I mean, it's a problem that's been worked a lot. It's been worked hard.
The other problem with the Patriots is somewhat of a puzzle. You know, there now have been three friendly fire incidents of Patriots, two where they've shot down, one, a British aircraft, and the other the FA-18 and another in which a Patriot radar was shot on, fired on by a U.S. aircraft. That's sort of baffling. Maybe it's because we're just working out the technology because that is a new technology -- certainly a new technology moving forward in the battlefield.
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: As an old hawk missile officer, I can tell you that the process for identification friend or foe has progressed tremendously. This is perhaps now that we've seen three subsequent events, this is very likely to be some sort of a software glitch because the requirement on the human side, that's possible one time, maybe twice but not three in such a short period of time to misidentify an aircraft like that.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, we'll stop it there for tonight. But thanks a lot.